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Ahead of a detailed consultation on proposals to criminalise wilful negligence in the medical profession, doctors leaders warn that the reforms would lead to a "climate of fear" in the profession.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said a proposal to make the wilful neglect of patients a criminal offence alone "will not help change to a culture of care within the NHS".
Dr Paul Flynn, chair of the BMA's consultant committee, said:
Following the Mid-Staffordshire patient care scandal, Professor Don Berwick was tasked with conducting a review into patient safety and recommended medical staff face prison for unacceptable treatment.
Speaking in August, Prof Berwick said, "Wilful, reckless, negligent behaviour - that deserves punishment".
A patient safety charity backing proposals to make the wilful neglect of medical patients a criminal offence said the Government must also implement a statutory Duty of Candour requiring honesty with patients when things go wrong.
Action Against Medical Accidents also suggested a "package of measures" should include protection for whistleblowers.
The law cannot be relied upon to make people do their jobs properly, the chair of the Royal College of GPs told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. Dr Maureen Baker said the key to patient safety is ensuring that effective systems are in place.
The general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing told BBC Radio 5 Live that there are already measures to address individual instances of neglect in the profession, and said that the Government should concentrate on improving staffing levels.
The review into patient safety and care in hospitals was led by Professor Don Berwick, a former adviser to US President Barack Obama, and he said it was needed to target the worst cases of a "couldn't care less" attitude that led to "wilful or reckless neglect or mistreatment".
The Government indicated when he published his report in August that it was likely to make the change to a criminal offence.
The wilful neglect of patients is to be made a criminal offence under NHS reforms being introduced in the wake of the Mid Staffs and other care scandals.
David Cameron said health workers who mistreated and abused patients would face "the full force of the law" in a package of measures to be unveiled next week.
The offence will be modelled on laws against the wilful neglect of adults under the Mental Capacity Act, punishable by fines or up to five years in prison.
A consultation on what scale of sentence should be applied to the extended law will be carried out over the next few months by the Department of Health.